Eye On the Ball

Whether in a major open or a leisurely game, play with the golf balls of the pros

One of the great things about the game of golf is that it is a sport for the Every-man. Thanks to the GHIN Handicap system, Tiger Woods can compete on an even basis with Joe Q. Public. This opportunity even extends to the world’s major championships. The U.S. Open and the British Open both have a qualifying system where Joe Q can pay an entry fee and try to qualify to play in the championship right alongside the best professionals in the world.

This year, the U.S. Open is being played on a true public golf course – Torrey Pines in San Diego, Calif. The USGA will receive thousands of entries from around the world to try to qualify to play in this championship. Amateurs must have a decent game, however – the USGA requires a handicap index of less than 1.4 to qualify. The British Open, which returns this year to Royal Birkdale (a seaside links course in England) in July, also opens to amateurs wishing to swing alongside the most seasoned golfers in the game.

Not only can amateurs compete against the best professionals in the world, they also get to play the very same equipment and use the same balls as them. There has been a lot of discussion over the last 10 years among the world’s ruling golf associations – the USGA, Royal and Ancient and PGA and LPGA Tours – to require every competitor to play the same ball, but for now, players get to choose the brand of ball they wish to play.

Jack Nicklaus has been one of the leading advocates for such a rule. Of course, the majority of the professionals, with their lucrative endorsement contracts and every major golf company trying to market their particular brands, are opposed to the one ball rule.

So, what’s the best ball for you? The answer really depends on a number of factors: personal swing specs such as your club-head speed, driver launch angle, amount of ball spin and even your personal preferences for look and feel (some players prefer a softer-feeling ball for their short game, where a harder-feeling ball may fly farther off of the tee). Balls actually differ more in how they spin and perform around the green than they do off of the tee.

In a recent study, the researchers found that the top 35 brands all offer about the same amount of length with the driver – they were all within 8 yards of each other. Generally, the most expensive balls such as Title-ist Pro V1x, Taylor Made Black and Nike One Platinum (the ball that Tiger plays) are softer and spin more. The conclusion was that, given how similar ball performance was with the driver, the average player should stop trying to find a rock-hard distance ball and start thinking more about greenside performance, and select a ball that is softer and spins more to help control their scoring shots better. If you’re going to try to compete with Tiger, you might as well play the same type of ball that he plays!

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